'Tablighi Virus', 'Pakistan devils': Hate speech in Kannada media coverage documented

The Campaign Against Hate Speech, a voluntary group noted that individuals are defamed, speculation was published without evidence, and mob justice was encouraged over due process in news reporting.
 'Tablighi Virus', 'Pakistan devils': Hate speech in Kannada media coverage documented
'Tablighi Virus', 'Pakistan devils': Hate speech in Kannada media coverage documented
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The Campaign Against Hate Speech, a voluntary group of lawyers, writers, activists, filed an extensive report documenting instances of hate speech in 2020 including by the Kannada media while covering incidents of violence in Bengaluru. In its report titled ‘The Report titled ‘Wages of Hate: Journalism in Dark Times‘, the group noted that individuals are defamed, speculation was published without evidence, and mob justice was encouraged over due process in news reporting. It studied coverage by Kannada newspapers and TV channels which are popularly read and watched in Karnataka. 

The Campaign Against Hate Speech highlighted patterns which suggested that a disregard for due process was apparent in the reportage by Kannada media houses similar to the reportage by a section of English news organisations.

The report found instances of hate-speech in the coverage of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and the reportage on the Tablighi Jamaat related coronavirus cluster by the Kannada media this year.

"Kannada  media  has  not  been  very  different  from  its  egregious  counterparts  in  English,  Hindi  and  other  regional  media  houses,  as  its  reportage  of  the  Tablighi  Jamaat  cluster  has  been  outrightly  communal  and  has  endangered  Muslim  communities  across  the  state.  Hate  speech  in  this  period  dehumanized  an  entire  community,  making  them  targets  of  vigilante  violence," stated the report.

It also said that there was a continuity in the reportage on the Tablighi Jamaat related cluster of coronavirus cases and the reportage on the CAA protests by Kannada media. The report studied the patterns of ownership in nine TV news channels - TV9 Kannada, Suvarna News, News18 Kannada, Digvijaya News, Public TV, Kasturi News, BTV, TV5 and Raj News - and seven newspapers - Vijaya Karnataka, Vijayavani, Udayavani, Prajavani, Kannada Prabha, Samyuktha Karnataka, Varthabharati. It also focused on the coverage in selected news channels and newspapers.

The report examined coverage of the arrest of Nalini Balakumar, a student who held a placard which read 'Free Kashmir', the demolition of migrant settlements in Bengaluru over fears that illegal Bangladeshi residents were living there, sedition charges over a play staged at Shaheen School in Bidar, the arrest of three Kashmiri engineering students in Hubballi over a video of them allegedly singing 'Pakistan Zindabad' and the arrests of Amulya Leona and Ardra Narayanan in Bengaluru.

‘Framing accused as objects of hatred’

While covering the arrests of the three Kashmiri students in February, Public TV's popular anchor HR Ranganath urged people in Hubballi to inflict physical violence on the accused by saying, "Cut off their legs if they try to ever set foot on the ground."  

Public TV anchor HR Ranganath (pictured right)

"It framed protests, dissent and those accused of sedition as objects of hatred and even of violence, thus leaving them open to life-threatening danger. It also allowed for a convenient framing of an us vs them rhetoric where the anchors adopt a self-righteous attitude as self-appointed guardian of the nation." the report said. 

The Bar Association in Hubballi passed a resolution to not represent the three students booked for sedition, a decision which was challenged by lawyers from Bengaluru. The Karnataka High Court observed on April 20 that no prima facie case of sedition was made out against the students and they walked free in June after the police failed to file a chargesheet within the stipulated time. 

The same channel, while covering the arrests of Amulya Leona and Ardra Narayanan, referred to the duo as 'Pak Pishachigalu' (Pakistan's devils). The duo's faces were also stamped with seals which read 'anti-national'. 

Public TV graphic describing Amulya and Ardra as 'Pakistan's Devils'

Amulya Leona was arrested in Bengaluru in February after she said 'Pakistan Zindabad' while speaking at a protest against the CAA but she was not allowed to complete the context in which she said so. Ardra Narayanan was arrested a day later after she held a sign saying, ‘Muslim, Dalit Kashmir, Trans, Adivasi, freedom, freedom, freedom, now.’

Read: Protester detained for holding up ‘Kashmir liberation’ poster at Bengaluru’s Town Hall

TV channels in Karnataka also telecast death threats issued to student protesters. A Sri Rama Sene member offered Rs 10 lakh as reward to anyone who kills student protester Amulya Leona on February 21. The report by The Campaign Against Hate Speech examined that this statement was presented on Suvarna News, another TV channel, as a 'warning' and the threat that they not be released on bail as a 'request'.

Read: Sri Rama Sene man announces Rs 10 lakh bounty for killing student activist Amulya Leona

Suvarna News coverage of Sanjeev Maradi's 'warning'

In January, Suvarna News aired a news report claiming the presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Bengaluru in January. Another video shot by a resident in a high-rise apartment in the city also claimed the presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. This video was shared widely including by Mahadevapura's BJP MLA Arvind Limbavali on Twitter.

Days later on January 19, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ordered the demolition of a migrant settlement in Bengaluru. The Karnataka High Court later found that the eviction drive was illegal and ordered the BBMP and the state government to rehabilitate those who lost their homes in the drive. 

Read: After video claims 'Bangladeshi immigrant' settlement in Bengaluru, BBMP razes 100 huts

The report also found patterns showing how the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic was communalised. Suvarna News aired a show terming coronavirus as 'Tablighi virus' on April 10 while Star of Mysore, a newspaper published in Mysuru came under fire for an editorial titled ‘Bad apples in the basket’ that seemingly called for genocide. 

Suvarna News report calls coronavirus 'Tablighi Virus'

‘Sterotyping and vilification the norm’ 

"Active  incitement  of  hatred  by  media  houses  across  the  country  against  dissenting  individuals,  particularly  those  charged  with  sedition,  has  become  a  deeply  disturbing  tendency  in  reportage," the report said.

It also highlighted the media coverage of two violent incidents in Muslim-dominated localities in Bengaluru. The first incident occurred in Padarayanapura in April and the second occurred in KG Halli and DJ Halli in August. 

"Media  coverage of these two  incidents of violence indicate that for Kannada TV news channels in particular, stereotyping and vilification through hate speech has become the norm  rather  than  the  exception. If  government  response  to  the  violence has been to order indiscriminate arrests and treating the issue variously as a communal and as a law-and-order  problem, judicial response to hate speech in the name of news coverage has been non-existent," the report stated. 

It added that wider diversity in media houses, forms of internal regulation and prosecution of FIRs which invoke hate speech are ways this development can be addressed. 

Listen to a message from Prajwal Bhat, the author of this story.

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